Friday, October 16, 2015

To Protect and Serve

That last class of the day was miraculously quiet when one student glanced out the window. "A kid is getting arrested!" he reported. 

One glance outside and I knew he was right, administration and our school resource officer were indeed walking a handcuffed student toward a police cruiser parked out front.

As the rest of the students rose to stampede the window I used my most authoritative voice. "Stop!" I commanded and held my hand up. It helped that I was in position, standing between them and the view they so desperately longed to glimpse, but I thank my teaching angels as well.

To appease them, I narrated what only I could see, and that was that the school personnel were heading back into the building and the police cruiser was pulling away. Their eyes were super-wide.

"They can arrest us at school?" one student wanted to know.

I was tempted to make light of it, to joke about the consequences for not doing homework or talking out of turn, but then my eyes swept over the group. All but one of these children were of color, and I considered the current debate in our nation concerning police officers and their duty, authority, and responsibility. I could tell that there was considerable alarm at the possibility of being detained, and I wasn't sure what to say.

"Only if it's very serious," I finally told them. "I've been here a long time, and it hardly ever happens." 

They seemed to feel a little better then, and when the bell rang shortly afterward, they seemed pretty cheerful as they headed off to PE and electives, leaving me alone in my empty classroom. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that not one of us felt any safer once the student had been taken away. For all we knew he could have been a serious threat to our community, certainly there have been a number of attacks on schools and students recently, but that's not where our thoughts went.

Clearly, we need to continue this conversation.

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